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Russia: Environmentalists Go Political

Environmentalists from across Russia gathered outside Moscow on 5 June to found a new political party, The Union of Greens. Its leader, a prominent nuclear safety activist, said the goal of the new party is to campaign for the rights of Russians to a healthier environment. He expressed hope that the Union of Greens will meet the same success as its German counterpart and grow into a key political force.

Moscow, 6 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Some of Russia's top environmentalists chose 5 June, World Environment Day, to found what they describe as the country's first real ecological party.

At a convention held outside Moscow, participants adopted the charter of the new party, the Union of Greens. They also elected Aleksei Yablokov, a respected nuclear safety expert who heads the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, as party leader.

Yablokov stressed that environmentalists in Russia need to group into a political force in order to lobby for legislation protecting the environment.

"We are creating the Union of greens of Russia, the political wing of the green movement of Russia," Yablokov said. "Without political pressure on the authorities, it is impossible to efficiently solve social and ecological problems in today's Russia. Our top priority is to foster the rights of citizens to a healthy life and in a healthy environment."

Russia's new green party plans to run in the 2007 elections for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, as well as in local legislative polls.

Yablokov says he has no hope of seeing ecologists form a majority at the Duma, where the pro-Kremlin United Russia party holds two-thirds of the seats.

But he trusts Russia's Union of Greens will one day be able to achieve the considerable political influence that Germany's Green Party enjoys at home.

"Of course, we understand that we will not garner a majority in the Duma," Yablokov said. "But we can become a key partner without which it will be impossible to pass legislation, just like they have in Germany. The (German Green) party is not big, 12 to 15 percent, but without them no decision can be passed. We want to repeat this experience."

Barely into its second day of existence, the party is however already bracing for difficulties, including the delicate matter of obtaining official registration -- a process largely overseen by the Kremlin.
"We can become a key partner without which it will be impossible to pass legislation" -- Union Of Greens partly leader Yablokov

The Union of Greens does have the support of a major political force, the liberal Yabloko party.

But Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin, speaking at the 5 June meeting, said the authorities are likely to make trouble for the new party.

"We are ready for every form of cooperation with you," Mitrokhin said. "It is possible that it won't work out for several reasons, mainly because the bureaucrats have a strong distaste for ecological movements and they have lots of opportunities to nip the formation of any kind of organization in the bud."

One of Yablokov's three deputies to be elected was Aleksandr Nikitin, a former naval captain who was arrested and accused of treason in 1996 after preparing a report with Norway's Bellona Foundation on nuclear dangers in Russia's northern submarine fleet.

Russia's Supreme Court cleared him of all charges in 2000.

Nikitin told RFE/RL on 6 June that the Union of Greens will be Russia's first real ecological party but that it intended to unite with other grass-roots movements:

"Until now, there hadn't been any green party in Russia," Nikitin said. "There is the Party of Life, a project that totally belongs to the Kremlin, but this is not at all what we want to create. The party is created from a grass-roots initiative -- mainly from ecologist associations, but the Green party is not only ecologists. It is also anti-militarists, pacifists -- a large group of people whose support we are counting on."

There are currently about 60 registered environmental organizations in Russia. The most prominent of them often criticize the government for taking measures they say threaten the environment and the health of Russians.